From tailpipe to light switch: student research explores converting exhaust waste to electrical power

From tailpipe to light switch: student research explores converting exhaust waste to electrical power

Adam Kocienski and Logan Gallagher are working on a senior capstone design project that explores the feasibility of converting automotive thermal exhaust waste to electrical power. This project sets itself apart from other thermoelectric generator systems by focusing on the entrepreneurial aspect of maximizing the investment return versus maximizing the electrical efficiency of the system.

Kocienski, of Schaghticoke, N.Y., is pursuing a minor in business administration and is president of the Entrepreneur Club. He and Gallagher, his project teammate, will present their work at the National Council on Undergraduate Research in April at the University of Kentucky.

The power generated by the system will ultimately be used to reduce the load on a vehicle’s alternator, increasing the fuel efficiency and resulting in fuel savings over the life of the car. The team has chosen to go with an air-cooled system rather than the more efficient liquid-cooled variety, but the design choice greatly reduces the complexity, cost and weight of the system. An air-cooled system is also noninvasive to the host vehicle, and can be installed as an after-market accessory.

If the device could produce enough power to replace the typical load of an alternator on the engine, the team figures that the fuel efficiency would increase by 10 percent for an average new car with a 25.4 mpg fuel-efficiency rating. At today’s gas prices, the projected savings over the life of a car would be about $2,600. Armed with a working prototype and a test plan, they will next determine how much power they can get now, and then finish building a mathematical model of the system so they can project how much they can reasonably get if the system is optimized and expanded. This is all while keeping the price point far enough below the $2,600 projected savings to make the product attractive to buyers.

Some initial results show that the system may have a long way to go before becoming a profitable endeavor, but that doesn’t discourage the seniors. With the increasing energy demand around the world and decreasing energy resources, Kocienski and Gallagher recognize that a sustainable solution to the world’s energy demand will not come from one source, but a mix of sources. Being part of the solution is what keeps them going, and that is the primary motivation for this project.

“It’s a step,” Kocienski said.

Adam Kocienski and Logan Gallagher are students in NU’s department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Their project advisor is assistant professor Michael Prairie.